Rob Widdows

PEREZ IS THE TALK OF THE TOWN. PERHAPS NOT in Stevenage, from where a certain Mercedes-bound Formula 1 driver hails, but cedainly in Guadalajara, Mexico.

This young man’s move to McLaren is major news back home.

Precious few Mexicans have excelled at the highest level, the most celebrated 5tH I being the Rodriguez brothers way back in the last century. But all that could be about to change.

Perhaps we should consult one of hB countrymen on just what this means to a nation passionate about its racing, but bereft of stars. Nobody is better placed than former McLaren Fl team co-ordinator Jo Ramirez, who grew up with Riccardo and Pedro and who later followed them to Europe as a mechanic.

This season Jo has been helping Perez as he’s plotted his route through the many pitfalls that face a new star in the pressures of the Grand Prix paddock. Before setting off to compete in the Carrera Panamericana road race back home, Jo gave me his thoughts on what this young man has achieved so far.

“It’s fantastic, honestly, and really exciting,” he says. “I am so proud of what he has done. It’s been so long since Pedro was in Fl and we’ve always loved motor sport in Mexico, we love driving fast, but it’s not a rich country and Fl is becoming more and more expensive. Now, thanks to Carlos Slim the racing fraternity at home call him San Carlos there has been money to support young Mexican drivers. Carlos is so enthusiastic and he wants to revive the love of the sport in Mexico without him this could never have happened. “So here we are, we have Sergio at McLaren, and to be honest, we knew he was quick, but we’ve all been surprised at how well he’s done to get there so fast. And now Bernie (Ecclestone) seems keen to have a Mexican Grand Prix again, he lovesthat part of the world south of the border, and I think you will see more Mexican fans than Americans when we go to Austin this year. We have a

circuit in Mexico City which, although there is work to do there, could be better than building a new circuit out in the countryside away from the city.”

So how has Perez come so far so quickly? “Well, he was not the only one to receive support from Carlos Slim, but he was the only one to understand just how important that could be to him. There have been other quick youngsters but they were not so sensible, they did not properly follow the path they were offered. Sergio did well in kading in Mexico, then he lett home and went to Europe when he was just 15 years old to race in Formula BMW. He was already supported by Carlos.

“OK, he may not yet be fully matured as a man, but I have seen hB confidence as a driver growing all the time, and he knows what he wants from hB engineers. The more he can race with people like Alonso and Hamilton, the more he will learn. Lewis is the fastest, but Fernando is for sure the most complete driver, and to be alongside him at Ferrari was maybe too much in his third year. Fernando is a political animal, he has but that team around him, even more so than Schumacher did, so Sergio would always have been number two, and that’s no good for a racing driver. He can become demotivated by getting the call to let hB team leader pass. McLaren is much better, it is more a family team, not nearly as cod or regimented as many people think.”

Can Perez do for Mexico what Fittipaldi and Piquet did for the sport in Brazil? “I hope so,” laughs Jo, “but let’s wait and see. For now, his future is assured, but Sergio must avoid getting too big for his boots, he needs to keep his feet firmly on the ground. He 5tH I needs to improve his performance in qualifying. With McLaren and their resources he will do that.”

Perez WII be a man to watch once we get to Melbourne next year. The citizens of Guadalajara will have eyes for no one else.